Homes come in all shapes and sizes

One woman is doing her part to curb homelessness in Claremont—by giving those in need a place to stay in her home.

Karen Chapman Lenz, a retired schoolteacher and a prominent member of the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP), has housed two participants (CHAP’s term for the homeless people they help) in her home for nearly a year, giving them a head start as they get back on their feet.

Ms. Chapman Lenz, who has lived in the same home on the border of Claremont and Pomona for nearly 40 years, got the idea as a member of the city’s housing working group.

“I thought, this is always what we wanted to do, to find them places to live,” she said.

She knew her two roommates from their stints at the CHAP overnight house at the Quaker building on Harrison Avenue, and opted to lend them two of the empty rooms in her home at 30 percent of their current income.

“Most of us pay quite a bit more than that,” she added. “But we have more to start with, that’s the difference.”

Tom Magdziak, one of the men living in Ms. Chapman Lenz’s home, keeps to himself most of the time, but occasionally helps around the house whenever Ms. Chapman Lenz needs anything done.

“Karen’s considerate, and I try to be considerate, and that makes it work,” he said. “Just showing a little consideration goes a long way.”

Notably, Mr. Magdziak helped Ms. Chapman Lenz fix up her motorhome in her driveway. This routine, he says, allows the participants to feel like true roommates. 

“She doesn’t make us feel like we’re in the program or anything,” he said. “It’s a regular room.”

Mr. Magdziak works part-time as a cook at a local restaurant and Charlie, who declined to be interviewed, works as a landscaper. Mr. Magdziak, who rides his bike to and from work every day due to its convenient proximity from Ms. Chapman Lenz’s house, is thankful for his job and acts as a father figure for another employee.

“I’m kind of an advocate for another cook there,” he said. “He’s a good kid. He doesn’t have his dad around so he talks with me a lot and I give him a little of my experiences.”

Mr. Magdziak also gives back to the group who helped him. He volunteers as an overnight host at the Quaker building on Saturday nights, where he oversees the house during graveyard hours. 

“It’s not hard to do your tasks when you’re at the shelter,” he said. “It’s easy, any eight-year-old can do it, and it’s showing appreciation for your friends there.”

As for Charlie, Ms. Chapman Lenz keeps a folder of his drawings on the dining room table for anyone to look at. The drawings, Ms. Chapman Lenz explained, are what Charlie did to pass the time while he was living in his car—mementos from a tougher time when he was living day-by-day without a place to live.

Ms. Lenz has already been recognized for her hospitality. The Democratic Club of Claremont (DCC) honored her during their December 4, 2016 meeting. Ms. Lenz was initially shocked when she received word of the honor.

“I was very surprised in November when someone called me and said the Democratic Club of Claremont wanted to honor me because of my involvement with the CHAP group,” she said. “And I thought, ‘You hardly know me!’”

During the ceremony, she received congratulations from local dignitaries such as Congresswoman Judy Chu and then-Claremont Mayor Sam Pedroza.

Ms. Chapman Lenz has a simple piece of advice for those who are thinking of opening their doors to Claremonters in need—“Make sure they knew them,” she noted.

She added that she noticed Mr. Magdziak had undiagnosed sleep apnea while he was living at the shelter, which eventually led him to receive treatment—an example of the mutually beneficial relationship between advocates and participants.

Mr. Magdziak is thankful to Ms. Chapman Lenz for opening her doors to him and Charlie during a time when they needed it the most. “I don’t know how to put it in words without crying,” he said.

—Matthew Bramlett


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